New changes on Twitter have made it harder to find some of the site’s most controversial far-right users.
Prominent right-wing Twitter accounts, including a writer for conspiracy theorist hub InfoWars and white-nationalist figures like Richard Spencer and Jason Kessler, appear to have been hit with a number of new measures meant to reduce their visibility on the platform.
The changes have set off a full-on freak out on the right from figures angry at the possibility their audience sizes could be reduced. Bill Mitchell, a Trump super-fan who has more than 350,000 Twitter followers, declared that the changes were proof that “the LEFT is terrified of the Trump Message. An InfoWars petition against the changes has garnered more than 7,500 signatures claims that the changes amount to “silencing alternative voices online.”
“Free speech is in dire threat,” warned InfoWars personality Paul Joseph Watson.
Twitter has struggled with how to deal with far-right personalities who whip up abusive troll mobs or push hoaxes and racist content. In May, the social-media giant announced that it would make changes to “communal areas like conversation and search” in an effort to make troll accounts less visible.
Twitter declined to comment on the apparently new changes to how the site treats certain accounts, referring The Daily Beast to the May blog post about limiting the reach of trolls.
One of the new changes, first reported by Gizmodo, affects how certain accounts appear in searches on the site. Twitter’s search no longer auto-suggests the Twitter handles for various right-wing provocateurs. A search for far-right figure Mike Cernovich, for example, no longer auto-fills with a link to his Twitter handle, instead suggesting several parody accounts. If a Twitter user completes the search, though, they can find Cernovich’s actual Twitter account.
The search change appears to have hit a number of other right-wing figures, including pro-Trump provocateur Laura Loomer, popular far-right blog Gateway Pundit, YouTube philosopher Stefan Molyneux, and InfoWars’ Watson.
The search change appears to have mostly affected more fringe figures on the right, as more mainstream Trump-era conservatives like Ben Shapiro and Fox News hosts Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, and Tucker Carlson remain unaffected by the new rules.
Figures on the right started to claim last week that they’re being affected by “quality filter discrimination,” a reference to the “quality filter” Twitter instituted in 2016.
Using a third-party online tool that claims to show whether a Twitter account has been deemed “low-quality” under the tool, conservatives have claimed that their tweets have been reduced in visibility on the site. Conservative accounts complaining about the quality filter say this makes it difficult for Twitter users who have enabled the quality filter in their Twitter preferences to see their tweets.
It’s unclear how the “quality filter” issue actually affects how tweets appear. In a House Judiciary Committee hearing last week, a Twitter representative denied that it was banning conservative accounts, saying the company limits accounts based on their “behavior,” rather than their content.